Airing between regular episodes of the VinePair Podcast, “Next Round” explores the ideas and innovations that are helping drinks businesses adapt in a time of unprecedented change. As the coronavirus crisis continues and new challenges arise, VP Pro is in your corner, supporting the drinks community for all the rounds to come. If you have a story or perspective to share, email us at [email protected].
In this episode of “Next Round,” host Adam Teeter sits down with GN Chan, co-founder of Double Chicken Please in Lower Manhattan. GN’s journey has taken him from growing up in a home with no alcohol to bartending in some of New York’s most storied establishments. Today, he faces the daily challenges of opening a bar during Covid.
Along with his co-founder, Faye Chen, Double Chicken Please uses GN’s extensive experience in product design to bring hacking design into the bar’s theme. Hacking design focuses on the concepts of deconstructed and reconstructed menu offerings such as drinks that combine lime rum, cold-brew coffee, and apricot, or a reposado tequila with lavender and cacao. For food, chicken sandwiches take center stage, along with plant-based options and shareable sides. With no indoor dining and limited outdoor space, Double Chicken Please is offering to-go and delivery options until regulations ease.
GN and Adam also discuss the bar’s craft cocktail offerings that use a tap system. The gas-injected, stabilized system allows for a clean, no-touch, creation of cocktails. It also lowers labor costs, which is evident in the establishment’s cocktail prices, which are between $12 and $14.
Or check out the conversation here
Adam: From Brooklyn, New York, I’m Adam Teeter. And this is a VinePair “Next Round” conversation. We’re bringing you these conversations in between our regular podcast episodes in order to give everyone a better picture of what’s happening in the drinks world right now. Today, I’m really lucky to be talking with GN Chan, co-founder of Double Chicken Please, a brand-new bar that’s opened in Lower Manhattan. GN, thank you so much for joining me.
GN: No problem. My pleasure. Thank you for having me here.
A: Before we talk about the craziness of opening a bar during Covid and why you did that, tell me about Double Chicken Please.
GN: Basically, it’s a design studio. It started 12 years ago, when it was supposed to open. The design studio was my best friend’s from college, in Taiwan. It never happened. And by chance, I switched my career. I was a designer who became a bartender, and moved from Taiwan to New York. And years later, I started thinking about opening a place. So we turned the design studio into a bar, basically. But we still operated under this brand, under a design brand. So right now, we are deciding on our food and beverage, but down the road, we have a lot of different things coming up. So yeah, it’s a beverage and food brand for now. But down the road, we might collaborate with different brands, like clothing or design or a gallery. That’s what we are planning to do. So it’s pretty exciting.
A: So when you were in college, were you were doing graphic design? Were you doing more mixed mediums? What was your background as a designer before you came to New York and entered the bar world?
GN: I was studying structural design, or in the modern language, it would be product design. So basically furniture, product, all this stuff. And I was very interested in interactive design, like AI. For example, you wave your hand, and something just goes up, or you wave your left hand and something reacts to you. Stuff like that. I was pretty amazed by technology and all the stuff around me. So I combined all the things with graphic design.
A: And what brought you to New York right after college?
GN: So, I was doing my own design studio after college. Military service is our duty in Taiwan, and all of a sudden, someone scammed me. I got scammed, so all of my money’s gone. I was broke. So very randomly, I went to the bar and asked for a job. And I got hired without any skill or knowledge of bartending. I just needed a job to pay off my bill. And then I have no money, so I’m living in the bar for seven months. There’s a small attic in the bar in Taiwan, and I just lived in that small attic for seven months, and started learning bartending. And I figured out what it is. Really cool and really fun. Basically, it merged two of my biggest interests. One is design, and one is to perform. I used to be a trained magician. So this is perfect. It fully combined two of my major interests, even though I don’t drink. I didn’t really drink alcohol growing up, my whole family doesn’t drink, but I still learned how to do it. And I really like it. Then one day, my friend from Hong Kong came to visit — she’s a really well-known bartender — and I asked her, “you know better than me about the bartending world. Where’s the most challenging place for making cocktails?” And she said, “hmm, maybe New York.” I said, “OK, I’m going to go to New York.” And then a month later, I bought a one-way ticket and quit my job. And I’m here. And that was 10 years ago. I’m lucky enough to still be here.
A: Wow. So you’ve bartended at a bunch of storied places in New York prior to opening Double Chicken Please. When did you have the desire to open your own place? What was that thought process for you?
GN: I think it was five or six years ago at Angel’s Share, and I love Angel’s Share, I loved the people I was working with, I love everything. But Angel’s Share is really Japanese. I always say it’s rebellion Japanese. They have a really unique style, and I think it’s better to not change it. It’s better to stick with that. So if I wanted to do something, I needed to start with my own. And so I started thinking and started planning and it took a long, long time. The whole project took six years to actually make it happen. There were so many obstacles that we bumped into, it was almost too much. We thought about quitting this project so many times. We almost moved back to Asia two years ago. But for some reason, I think I’m just stubborn. My business partners are also really stubborn. We just want to make things happen and the way we want to be. So, a month ago, we opened Double Chicken Please in the Lower East Side, which took us six years.
A: Was the length of six years, was that finding the right space? Raising the capital? Was it all of those things that is what made it take so long?
GN: Yeah, but mainly it was looking for space. There are so many obstacles. For example, dealing with the landlord. The back-and-forth negotiations, every term takes four or five months. And this one time, the landlord just disappeared. Another time, the landlord wanted to open the bar by himself. After he reviewed our business plan. There’s another time, after six or seven months of negotiation, the landlord went to jail. So the whole thing fell apart. And there’s another time we were about to sign a lease, and at the very last minute, the bar says, “OK, so we’re gonna do a three-days celebration but before that, we will close.” And I say, “yeah, that’s totally cool.” And they got busted. They served underage people, so their license got suspended. I don’t know, just a backlog or something happens in our life, it just never worked. So it took us a long, long time.
A: So talking about when you finally open. I’m assuming you had the space before the coronavirus outbreak? Or were you already in the midst of building the space out when this all started?
GN: No, it was before. We started negotiating this current spot, 115 Allen Street, around January 2019. And then we finally got the keys on Aug. 1, 2019 and started to build out. And then the Covid broke out, and there were four or almost five months when nobody wanted to work. And so the whole project kept dragging and dragging until Nov. 13, 2020, when we opened. We basically opened two days after the build-out finished.
A: Wow. And was the landlord understanding about what was happening with Covid, and were you able to take a break and not have to pay rent?
GN: Well, the tricky thing is, our landlord, they are good people, I have to say. I’m really grateful to have this landlord on this journey with us. But the thing is, they are a bunch of young people like me and my business partner. They are not wealthy people who sit on the couch, collecting money. They are young people who mortgage their house or home and try to do real estate business. So there’s only so much that they can help with, because they also got hit pretty bad during Covid. So I understand that. But it just made it really difficult for us and them to come up with something that can really help each other. So they try their best, I would say. I really appreciate it. So we’re still suffering from all this setback and circumstance. We will survive.
A: So you opened in November. So what is the concept of Double Chicken Please? I know, obviously you are doing chicken. But can you explain to me the concept of what the cocktails are and what your vision is for the place?
GN: So basically, it’s under a big concept called hacking design, like computer hackers. So hacking means deconstruct and rebuild. And it’s functional. It cannot just be an art piece. You have to be something that’s practical, that’s functional. That’s called hacking. So that’s the concept of Double Chicken Please. So everything we do, we try to hack a traditional or classic drinks or play with a dish and turn that into ‘martin funk,’ we just try to play with it. So for Double Chicken Please, we actually have the front bar and the back bar. The front bar is more casual. It’s more fast-paced, with fried chicken sandwiches and cocktails, everything on tap. In the back would be a little bit more homey. More classy, the drink and food here will be more fun. Something like craft cocktails, finger food, deconstruct a whole chicken and deconstruct the traditional dish, and put it back in a drink form. Deconstruct a classic cocktail, put it back in the bites form. So it’s comparing where you are drinking your food, you are eating your drink, something like that. So it’s a little bit more fun.
A: Very cool. So when you had the concept, you mentioned your business partner, does she have a background in food? Who had the background to know what you wanted to do? And on-site for the food side? Obviously, the cocktail side you had mastered. But when you thought about that, who did you go to for that?
GN: Our co-founder Faye Chen, she was a bartender like me, and she handled a bar in Shanghai called Speak Low, which is one of the top 20 bars in the world. And then I called her when they got No. 10 in the world. I say, ”It’s about time.” So we jumped into this project together. But the food part, we actually worked with a couple of different chefs before and tried to figure out what the best way for us. It’s a long process. About three months ago or four months ago, friends introduced us to this young chef named Mark Chou, and just bonded really well and he’s extremely talented. So we started working together and we have a really similar mindset to create something together. So now we all work together. At the beginning it was actually more like a bar. I’ll be honest with you, it was more like a bar slash light bar food. But now it’s almost half and half, food is equally as important as drinks. That’s something we learned during the first lockdown as well. Food became a big part of every bar program because, technically, people need to eat. They don’t need to drink. So during lockdown, especially now since indoor dining is banned and all the to-go and delivery is heavily driven by food, not drink. I’m really happy with it, though. People ask me, “Do you mind if you do food? Does it steal the spotlight of drink?” I said, “I don’t mind at all. Our product is our design, and I’m happy to produce everything that people need to make people happy.” I’m totally fine with whatever product we produce, whatever form it is. Everything, as long as it’s come from DCP, people like it. I’m happy.
A: So can you explain the name for me a little bit? Where did it come from?
GN: Originally, the name came from me and my best friend in college. So his nickname is Turkey in Mandarin. Turkey is somewhat like a chicken. And my nickname is something like chicken salad in Mandarin. So we both are chicken-ish, so that’s why I named it Double Chicken Please. Just something fun, catchy, something silly, I guess. Now, usually we just explain that Faye and I are two chickens. It’s just a funny name, but it doesn’t mean that we only sell chicken. We do a lot of different things based on our palates, based on our culture. We learn from all around the world. It’s not only chicken.
A: So talk to me about the cocktails a little bit. What cocktails are you doing on draft right now? And why did you decide to do cocktails on draft?
GN: Most of the drinks are based on whatever flavor that we’re interested in, and the flavor that we discover that’s good for a tap system, because the tap system is completely different from craft cocktail. When you put it in, it needs to be clarified. Everybody does it a different way. At least that’s for us, we need to clarify, we need to make sure this pulp and that nothing clogs the pipe, and it has to be really shelf-stable so that we can keep it for a long time. It’s just a different logic of making drinks and beverages. Right now, we started with a really streamlined menu, six drinks or seven drinks. Most of the drinks are a twist on a classic and give you a fun twist or something that we’ve been doing the past couple of years on the road doing the pop-up. And people would say, “Oh, this drink is actually good,” and people like it. And also, we are new. So we started with six different drinks. They all have a really different flavor profile. Try to see what people in the area are actually looking for.
A: So it’s interesting because I’m not as familiar with how draft cocktails work, so it’s cool to talk to you about it. Because you look for stuff that needs to be more stable, as you’re saying, is it more likely you would go with more of a majority- booze cocktail or a spirit-forward, as opposed to like a cocktail that has a lot of juices and things like that?
GN: Not necessarily. So for our six drinks, the ABV goes from 9 percent to 20 percent. They’re very different. So they don’t necessarily have to be higher-ABV as long as you clarify. You inject it with O2 or CO2 to make sure it’s shelf-stable. You can keep it for a long time. It’s fresh, no problem at all. So we were still focused on flavor, and how we can clarify and make them into the form that’s suitable for the tap system. So people are actually asking me, “Oh, do you do these because of Covid?” Because it’s really clean, basically you don’t touch anything. You basically just open the faucet and fill the glass. That’s it. So it’s really clean, safe, and people think it’s very simple. Also the way we do it, we can save a lot of time making stuff. So we have more time to serve the customer and to chat with our guests to make sure they have good time, and we can lower the labor costs as well. That’s why we can offer every drink from $12 to $14, which is a pretty affordable price in New York City. It is almost like a happy hour, all day.
A: Yeah, that’s definitely better pricing than you find a lot of places. So then you make the cocktails ahead. They all go into a small keg. And then do you push through with nitrogen or something that you’re pushing through the cocktail out through the tap?
GN: Yeah, basically, you can imagine it’s the same system as beer, just different gas. It’s a mixed gas. We use either CO2 or nitrous, it just depends on the drinks. Depends on what we want to present. What kind of mouthfeel — foamy or creamy texture — it depends.
A: That’s really cool. I hadn’t even thought about that. That makes it even more interesting. Awesome. And so then are you also selling cocktails now to-go?
GN: Yeah, we do. We do have two different sizes. One is per serving with ice, and people can take it to-go. Or we do these 8-ounce bottles, which are 1.5 serving to two servings. So we pour into a glass bottle, then people can easily take it home and pour ice themselves. So we offer a bunch of different choices. I think very soon, we are going to offer an even bigger quantity of bottles for the holidays right here around the corner for people who would like to party at home.
A: That’s awesome. So, through opening during Covid, what are your plans? What are you thinking about for the next three or four months? Or do you plan to keep the status quo? Obviously, we don’t know when indoor dining will come back. So is it mostly for now a to-go business and outdoors for you?
GN: We don’t really have outdoor, technically, because there’s a bus station right outside. So technically, we can’t do anything. So that’s extremely hard for us to survive. But I think people are a little bit more forgiving nowadays because they know the situation. So we just sneakily put two tables out there to host four people. And so far, nobody has complained about it. So, that’s all we got, and then just to-go and delivery. And honestly, to answer your question, what’s the plan after these three or four months? I don’t know. Every day, we try to figure out what’s good for this week or next week, because everything is changing too fast. The governor banned indoor dining, and then there’s next week or two weeks later they’re going to lock down completely again and the vaccine is out. So everything is rapidly changing. So I can’t say for sure. Also, our ideas are always constantly changing. So I would say right now we are at a stage that we plan everything a couple of days ahead of time. Just like we don’t plan something really long-term, but of course, we have a goal. So, we basically run the business day by day to see what’s going on tomorrow.
A: Well, GN, this has been really cool to talk to you a little bit about Double Chicken Please and what you guys have been up to. When do you think you’ll do products that aren’t drinks and food?
GN: Well, we’re actually doing it already. So for example, we’re selling our plates. We designed a plate and manufactured it in Poland. We designed our utensils. When you come in and use it, it looks like a screwdriver. Because the concept is when you use our utensils, you feel like you’re deconstructing and rebuilding something. So that’s our product as well. We’re selling our mask, it looks like a chicken beak. So you’ll be welcomed into the chicken family when you wear it. We already started doing a bunch of stuff, and there’s more stuff coming up. We just started to do stickers, it’s like a thank you card. The stickers show a chicken but looks like a boxer. We say it’s rolling with the punches — basically, it’s representing our spirit right now. So these are a lot of things we are trying to do, and we also see which way people can resonate more. So, yeah, it’s just a lot of things coming up.
A: That’s awesome. Well, I can’t wait to come in and check out the bar. And thank you so much for taking the time. This is really cool. I wish you guys all the best. I can’t wait to try the cocktails, and obviously next time anyone who’s listening goes to New York, you’ve got to go check out Double Chicken Please. Thank you so much, GN. This has been great.
Thanks so much for listening to the VinePair podcast. If you enjoy listening to us every week, please leave us a review or rating on iTunes, Spotify, or wherever it is that you get your podcasts. It really helps everyone else discover the show. Now for the credits. VinePair is produced by myself and Zach Geballe. It is also mixed and edited by him. Yeah. Zach, we know you do a lot. I’d also like to thank the entire VinePair team, including my co-founder Josh and our associate editor, Cat Wolinski. Thanks so much for listening. See you next week.
Ed. note: This episode has been edited for length and clarity